Interview + Saminathan Wimal:
‘International Organisations Cannot Solve Our Problems’
Respected academic Saminathan Wimal talks about why Sri Lankans should not look offshore for answers to their problems with reconciliation.
As a lecturer in Sinhalese, working at the University of Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka, Saminathan Wimal gets to see both sides of the ethnic conflict in his country. The Catamaran spoke with the well-known intellectual about the best way for the country’s Sinhalese and Tamils to come together.
The Catamaran: What role do you believe civil society organisations should be playing in Sri Lanka?
Saminathan Wimal: Civil society organisations should organize themselves to influence Sri Lanka’s political parties. Organisations from the north and south should come together and work on this. There is no use in only criticizing the government.
The Catamaran: What part can international organisations play?
Wimal: The feeling that the international community wants to divide the country, together with Tamil politicians, is strong in Sinhalese society. Under conditions like this, the international community cannot help much when it comes to safeguarding human rights. This is an internal problem. It is far more important that all Sinhalese and Tamils come together to find a solution. Our problems are strongly linked to racism from all parties. The international community cannot defeat racism in Sri Lanka. In fact, some activities are used to further develop racism here.
The Catamaran: So, you are saying that the international community is not helping?
Wimal: I think what is more important is working toward reconciliation inside Sri Lanka. It is a fairytale to believe that international organisations can solve our problems, rather than we ourselves engaging in dialogue with our own communities and with other political parties. When the Tamil people were under threat at the end of the civil war, nobody took any steps to save them. World powers work toward their own agendas. I believe we need support from international parties for the country’s collective struggle.
The Catamaran: What are your thoughts on the proposed new Sri Lankan Constitution?
Wimal: I think it is best to create a whole new Constitution. Unfortunately, in Sri Lanka we tend to oppose new things; people think they are some sort of conspiracy. That is Sri Lanka’s mentality.
We need a group that is respected and intellectual to draft the new Constitution. A document should be prepared, that looks to the future and not the past. After this document is discussed, it should be presented to politicians and their opinions should be sought. It’s no use telling the wrong people to prepare a new Constitution. A new Constitution should not just be a revision of the old one, it needs to take account contemporary issues.